The Life of the Average Billionaire

Grant Heindselman

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Time Period

The majority of America's billionaires lived and achieved their wealth during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Exceptions are as follows:

  • Bill Gates (1955- )
  • Warren Buffett (1930- )
  • Sam Walton (1918-1992)
  • John Jacob Astor (1763-1848)
  • Stephen van Rensselaer (1764-1839)
  • Stephen Girard (1750-1831)

How Was Their Vast Wealth Earned?

Most billionaire achieved his wealth by working in heavy industry and finance. This includes oil, railways, mines, and banks. John D. Rockefeller earned his money through Standard Oil, which held a monopoly over the oil industry.


Henry Ford


J.P Morgan

Jay Gould (And through Railways)

Russell Sage

Andrew W. Mellon

Moses Taylor


James C. Flood

James G. Fair


John D. Rockefeller


Collis Potter Huntington

Edward henry Harriman


Andrew Carnegie

Multiple industries:

Henry Huttleston Rogers (banking, railways, and mining)

John I. Blair (mining and railways)

Jay Gould (banking and railways)

Fun Fact

James C. Flood was the least wealthy of the gilded age billionaires with a net worth of $31 billion. John D. Rockefeller was the wealthiest American of all time with a net worth of $192 billion, roughly twice the net worth of Bill Gates.

Ethical Duties

For the most part, the average billionaire considered their ethical responsibilities and gave large sum of their wealth to charity efforts. However, there were some highly immoral billionaires. For example, the infamous Cornelius Vanderbilt made his fortune through illegal steamboat runs across New York Bay, forcing other companies to pay him to stay out of their areas. Jay Gould bribed members of NY legislature and set off the pants in 1869. Oliver H. Payne was accused of doling out bribes and Russell Sage was a loan shark who used powerful connections to avoid prison sentences.